Plantain (Plantago major)
Of any of the plants that you can use for first aid, I would say that plantain is by far the most useful. Edible and medicinal, raw or as a pot-herb, it is a hardy perennial that grows almost anywhere. Native Americans called it "white mans foot print" or "English foot" because wherever the settlers camped this plant would pop up everywhere.
Plantain is also known as Broad-leaved plantain, Common plantain, Door yard plantain, Greater plantain, Ripple grass, Snakeweed, and Waybread. Eurasian in origin, this perennial weed, is now found throughout the world with more than 200 species in the plantago genus. This plant that grows in your lawn is truly amazing.
Medicinally, this plant is considered a panacea (medicinal for everything). Chemical analysis has shown that plantain contains glycoside acubin. Acubin has been reported by the Journal of Toxicology as a powerful anti-toxin. Plantain is also a powerful astringent which makes it good for pulling things out (such as infection), stopping (such as bleeding), and closing (tissue together from a wound). It was commonly used during the civil war as a wound dressing and it is currently used in modern day pharmacology. Something VERY important to consider before you use this plant internally is; if you take blood thinners or if you are prone to blood clots, you should NEVER take this plant internally!
Medical evidence exists to confirm the use of plantain as an alternative medicine for; asthma, emphysema, bladder problems, bronchitis, fever, hypertension, rheumatism, and blood sugar control. A decoction of the root is used in a wide range of complaints including; diarrhea, dysentery, gastritis, peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhage, hemorrhoids, cystitis, bronchitis, sinusitis, cough, asthma, and hay fever. It also causes a natural aversion to tobacco. Extracts have antibacterial activity, it is a safe and effective treatment for bleeding, it quickly stops blood flow and encourages the repair of damaged tissue. Leaves can be used for skin inflammations, malignant ulcers, cuts, stings and swellings and is said to promote healing without scars. A poultice of warm wet leaves is put on cuts and wounds to draw out thorns, splinters, and infection. The root is said to be anti-venom for rattlesnake bites. Plantain seeds are used to treat worms. Crushed leaves rubbed on hands and feet for arthritis and gout. Oil from the seeds slows the absorption of drugs.
The easiest way to prepare this herb for topical use, is to place a leaf of the plant in your mouth, chew it to a pulp, and place on your injury. Other preparations are as follows:
*Tea: For colds and flu, or a mouthwash for tooth pain, use 1tbs dry or fresh whole plantain (seeds, roots, leaves) to 1cup boiling water. Steep 10 minutes, strain, sweeten. Drink through the day.
*Healing salve: In a large non-metallic pan place 1lb of entire plantain plant chopped, and 1c lard, cover, cook down on low heat till it is mushy and green. Strain while hot and pour into a container. Cool and use for insect bites and stings, rashes and sores, and poison ivy rash.
*Basic ointment: Crush fresh or dried herbs and simmer with lard. Simmer on top of stove in a double boiler for several hours. Strain and place back on heat, then melt beeswax and add it to the mix. When wax is melted, pour it into a jar.
Plantain is edible as well as medicinal. In a salad, use the young tender leaves. The older leaves are tough and stringy. Seeds are said to have a nutty flavor and may be parched and added to a variety or foods or ground into flour. Plantain is rich in vitamin B1, riboflavin and calcium. To prepare the leaves, soak them in dilute salt water for 10 minutes then steam till tender. This helps to break down some of the fibers in the leaves.
Please be sensible about harvesting plants for first aid. Know your plants well before applications and be aware of your limitations.